Women Talk Art: Jenelle Esparza

Jenelle Esparza is an interdisciplinary artist who was born in the coastal city of Corpus Christi, TX. She attended the University of Texas at San Antonio and received her BFA in photography in 2010. In October of 2016, Esparza joined forces with Rigoberto Luna to launch Presa House —an artist-run gallery that hosts monthly art exhibitions with a commitment to provide space for emerging and mid-career artists to experiment freely, express innovative ideas and engage with a diverse audience. 

In her artwork, Esparza examines the lesser-known history of cotton and labor in South Texas through photography, and textiles and incorporates concepts of body movement, history, gender, identity, culture, and race. Her recent projects consider the intersections of Mexican and American culture and the implications of generational trauma. 

Jenelle Esparza, “Heirlooms,” work in progress. Photo courtesy of the artist.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist? 
When I enrolled in art classes at Del Mar College in my hometown (Corpus Christi), it was the first time I learned process in art.

What is an essential thing to have in the studio? 
Scissors and a large table. And windows. I know that’s more than one thing.

What do you think is the most challenging aspect of being an artist today? 
BALANCE. Most of the time, we do so many things to survive, including making art.

Who is your role model? Why? 
My grandma. I dedicate my entire studio practice to her. She embodies strength and endurance despite the odds.

Jenelle Esparza, “Heirlooms,” work in progress. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Who are some of the curators you are looking at this upcoming year? 
I thought curators were supposed to be looking at us? JK- I’ve had the pleasure of working with several folks who are doing incredible work. I keep up with the influential Dr. Jeffreen Hayes at Three Walls in Chicago, who were recently awarded a grant by the Surdna Foundation to aid in their support of artists of color and racial inclusion and equity under Hayes’ direction. I’ve always admired Hayes’ uplifting curatorial practice of looking in the margins of art communities. Also, Mia Lopez, Asst Curator at DePaul Museum and homegrown San Antonio native. Her focus on Latinx art has influenced the institution, which has launched a new initiative to include Latinx art and artists into their collection and exhibitions. Rigo’s always doing interesting things at the gallery. This November, he invited Carlos Moreno, an up and coming curator and a recent fellow at the Andy Warhol Museum, to guest curate a show at Presa House, and I can’t wait to see what he’s got in store for us.

What’s an artwork/exhibition that has had the most significant emotional impact thus far? Definitely the State of the Art 2020 exhibit at Crystal Bridges and The Momentary. I’m still completely overwhelmed by that experience.

Jenelle Esparza, “Heirlooms,” work in progress. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Can you share a little bit about the body of work you’ve shared for this interview?
It’s a new development where I am repurposing old cast iron tools and hardware into representations of cultivation and survival, of place, memory, and family. This new direction with found objects is inspired by a grouping of family heirlooms from my grandmother’s garage. She kept the tools her father used to work the land. There’s a seed planter, pieces from garden hoes and forks, sledgehammers, shears, and a scythe. The forms of these antiquated objects are so human-like; they’re like a gathering of old souls whose friendship spans generations and whose stories, if they could speak, would tell of an earlier, much younger America. I’ve been collecting other cast-iron forms and working them into this new series.

Who would you like us to interview next? 
Naomi Wanjiku, Bernice Appelin-Williams, and Veronica Castillo

Author: Deliasofia Zacarias

Deliasofia Zacarias is one of the Unfiltered San Antonio co-founders. Double-majored in business and studio art, Zacarias is interested in art politics, food, and a whole lot of Netflix. She is currently LACMA's Emerging Art Professional Fellow in Los Angeles, CA.

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